Quality Relationships Pump the Contact Center's Lifeblood
Annual Call Center Exhibition '08: According to the keynote presenter, only a personal connection can lead to true satisfaction.
Posted Sep 17, 2008
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PHOENIX -- Contact center agents, managers, and supervisors struggle to maintain optimal customer satisfaction. Many times, that can lead to feelings of frustration and uselessness -- and many agents end up leaving. Trying to combat this trend, yesterday morning's keynote address here at the Annual Call Center Exhibition at the Phoenix Convention Center focused on the importance of forging quality relationships that will not only improve customer satisfaction, but translate to a happier workforce, as well.

Forging these relationships is of paramount importance today, according to Brad Cleveland, president of the International Customer Management Institute, a Colorado Springs, Colo.–based provider of contact center consulting and training. Before bringing the keynote presenter to the stage, he pointed out to the crowd -- a full house of his fellow customer service specialists -- how critical their work in the contact center has become today. "I truly believe that when there are uncertainties in the economy, the work that all of us do really matters the most," he said. "It's a really exciting time for our profession."

Quality relationships cannot get lost in this exciting time either, according to keynote presenter Keith Ferrazzi, chief executive officer of Los Angeles–based strategic relationship management firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, and author of the lunchtime-is-networking-time book Never Eat Alone. "What is absolutely clear here is that people must understand [that] relationships are critical to success," he explained, adding that relationships also impact business metrics.

As an example of how customer service representatives (CSRs) might try to connect on a personal level with irate callers, Ferrazzi introduced the audience to what he called the "bow-wow factor": In the course of listening to the consumer describe the issue at hand, a CSR might hear a dog barking on the other end of the line -- and then ask about the dog. Ferrazzi suggested that, even if the caller's problem is not entirely solved, the customer satisfaction will still increase because of the personal link established. "The point is that it's a big problem when measuring certain [key performance indicators] to try and drive productivity and enhancement of contact centers, when you're ultimately responsible for the solidification of loyalty," he said.

That solidification can only come from quality relationships on more than just an acquaintance level, Ferrazzi said. It starts even before an agent takes her first call of the day -- with employee relationships. According to a study his company conducted of the 55 highest-performing global teams, the number-one key to their success was "deep social bonds." "The key is to recognize that a business relationship is actually a personal [one]," he said. "Companies are worried about turnover rates, but that is because of the transactional environment in the workplace.... If there's no loyalty, [there cannot be] intimacy."

Intimacy, he argued, is one of the four pillars to truly successful relationships. The others are:

  • generosity;
  • accountability; and
  • candor.

"Your best relationships in the world have all four of these in healthy doses," he added.

He challenged the crowd to shake traditional notions about establishing deeper relationships in the workplace. Customer loyalty, he warned, hangs in the balance. "Are you fearful of using the word ‘love' in a professional environment?" he asked. "Get over it. You're holding your organization and yourself back if you're not deciding today that you will work to make all your relationships more personal. Customer care is [based on] the belief [that] you're there for them...that's real brand loyalty."

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